So let’s look beyond the crisis of the moment, and beyond US military involvement in one part of the world over the last 10 or so years. Let’s go back to the end of World War II, when the US emerged as the most powerful nation on earth. The Soviet Union stood a somewhat distant second, shackled to the restive Eastern Bloc with its leadership resented or hated even within its own borders.
The US did something smart. Instead of imposing harsh measures on Germany and Japan, as had been done to Germany at the end of World War I, it pursued economic engagement and recovery. Its two main foes became two main trading partners.
Of course, self-interest was involved in setting the ground for US economic expansion, but that self-interest recognized that it depended to some extent on the well-being of others. Racism might have been a factor in the lopsided focus on Europe, but at least the general direction was commendable.
While the Soviet Union brooded and blustered within the gilded cage of its de facto post-WWII borders and China remained closed to the world, the US became as popular as it was powerful. It was seen as the champion of freedom and rights.
What happened? For one thing, Americans did not heed the sober advice of an impeccable conservative — Dwight D. Eisenhower — in his farewell address as president. He warned that government “must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” That’s right, a general and Republican coined the phrase and issued the warning, not some bleeding-heart liberal.
Of course, the other thing that happened was Vietnam, the only country of significance outside the Eastern Bloc and China where a revolution brought communists to power. Cuba was little more than a thorn in the lion’s paw, but in both cases the US pursued ideology in opposing popular movements it could have come to terms with, thus pushing them toward the Soviet Union.
The bankruptcy of the Domino Theory (which strengthens Eisenhower’s warning if not his judgment as a whole) and its misguided legacy should still be a handy reference. But what of pre-revolutionary Cuba and other places – all of Central America for example – where US policy ignored, relied on or supported ruthless exploitation of the local population? This embracing of despots and military oppressors, many even trained by Washington, lacks all compassion and contrasts starkly with the pursuit of economic recovery after WWII. It has been defended as part of the fight against communism, but it is never anything but a psychotic love affair with greed.
The US has opposed economic justice and sabotaged its true self-interest by pursuing the siren’s call of self-interest as disconnected from the well-being of others. And the cost has been enormous. From a pinnacle of power and popularity, the US is now an economic mess more and more reviled as the world bully.
The demise of communism with the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s all-but-verbal embrace of capitalism deprived the US of ideological foes. So why did it not usher in an era of peace and increased prosperity? Could not military spending at last have been put to better use?
Maybe, but the military-industrial complex stood to lose an awful lot of money unless a new enemy or enemies could be found. Saddam was first. A brutal despot, he was an easy-enough target. But was he worse than the brutal despots the US supported? And when Saddam invaded Kuwait, did Western media make much of the fact that Kuwait had been part of Iraq until the British “separated” it after World War I to control the flow of Iraqi oil to the Persian Gulf?
Thus dangerous madmen and enemies have been and will continue to be created, as many as might be needed.
In short, the world’s most powerful and popular nation has pretty much thrown it all away by forcing its will militarily in ever more places around the globe. Rather than promoting a world order based on logic and true self-interest (I’ll leave compassion for later), it has essentially gone to war with the world.
Americans (the US variety) sadly have let this happen, and continue to support it — knowingly or unknowingly — by subscribing to the big lie that OTHERS are causing their decline rather than US arrogance and the incomprehensible military budget and presence it underwrites.
Of course, we could wake up, turn off our entertainment devices long enough to think rather than regurgitate the corporate-owned news, and start demanding accountability from corporate-anointed leaders “elected” by the people.
But if we don’t do it quickly, we’ll also have to buy the place back from China, or from whoever they sell it to on the junk bond market.